26 June 2012

Catherine and I caught the 1700 scheduled service to Sark on a rather cool and grey, but relatively calm afternoon. Fortunately by the time we arrived in Maseline Harbour the light rain had stopped. This was just as well for there was an impressive flock of c 80 mixed gulls feeding on waste fish just over the harbour wall. The gulls were so intent on feeding on this quality food waste that reading colour rings with binoculars was very easy. In 45 minutes we managed to record 12 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 24 Herring Gulls and a single Great Black-backed Gull - all birds from my colour ringing projects. This was another very valuable contribution to the study as most (if not all) of the these birds will be nesting around Sark.

From the ferry we'd seen several of the small gull colonies dotted along the north coast. Several large Herring Gull chicks were visible at Banquette Landing and the Lighthouse, and also on the cliffs behind Maseline Harbour. Most of the shag nests we could see were already empty, with the young having already fledged.

We enjoyed a very hospitable evening with Andy Cook and Sue Daley, before retiring to bed, hoping that the thick fog would clear by morning. In the didn't! However, by the time we walked to the harbour for a 10 o'clock start to the day's seabird monitoring the mist had lifted so that it only clung to the upper half of the cliffs, shrouding the top of the island. It was a very grey morning with a coolish breeze, but at least it was dry.

Andy picked us up in the little RIB - Sea mouse 2, and we headed down the east coast straight for Breniere. This has long been one of my favourite islets with its small mixed Herring/Lesser Black-backed Gull colony. Approaching the islet it was pretty clear that there were few gulls breeding on the grassy slopes this year, and we soon found this to be the case after landing. A thorough search by Catherine and me resulted in only one Herring and one Great Black-backed Gull chick being ringed. There were a few other dead (predated) chicks around, and a very few small chicks. There were only a handful of Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the western slope, and all were on eggs or in one case tiny chicks. For the second year running Breniere seems to be a declining colony. This was a major disappointment, but it was pleasing to see that a colony now appears to have established on the adjacent cliff coast of Little Sark. We estimated this colony to contain c 20 Herring Gull nests and perhaps as many as 30 Lesser Black-backed Gulls. An approach from the bottom was considered too dangerous, and in any case there were  very large Herring Gull chicks at the hopefully we visit this colony from the land in a few weeks' time.

After Breniere we motored back up the east coast, where a few Herring Gulls were dotted along the cliffs, some with large chicks in evidence. Next stop was Derrible Headland, where the LBBG colony looked at its usual strength of c 50 pairs on the grassy slope and rocky point. There were also 20+ pairs of Herring Gulls mostly on the lower cliff. Although there was an awkward swell, landing was possible on the sheltered side of the bay, but with large Herring Gull chicks running around the rocks just above the water's edge and a with the swell we decided not to risk chicks jumping into the sea and so did not land to ring these chicks. The northern side of the Headland had a similar number of Herring Gulls (20+ nests) with c 20 chicks visible on the cliff edge and grassy slope. Considered again too dangerous for a landing, we left these chicks unringed. This Herring Gull colony appears to be on the increase. In fact it would appear that the gulls are redistributing with far fewer on Breniere and more on the mainland cliff opposite and on Derrible Headland in particular.

We were just about to move on to look at Moie de Lache, just outside Creux Harbour, when the phone mobile rang. With an urgent problem to address back in Guernsey we abandoned the rest of the session and Andy very kindly took Catherine and me straight back to St Peter Port Harbour. It was the end of this monitoring session.

Despite this, it had still been a very useful visit to help build an overall picture of the 2012 seabird breeding season in the Bailiwick.

28 June 2012